Chapter 28: The University Grand Tour

“If you ever have a kid who doesn't know what to do, stick him in art school. It's amazing what evolves.”
Ridley Scott

We’ve already done one University grand tour, specifically for the benefit of the girl. A few years ago she dragged us from Durham to Exeter and many other points between attending open days, carefully inspecting the facilities and questioning the lecturers. In her case it was all completely academic as she had set her sights on Durham from the start. Despite various tempting bursaries and unconditional offers from other universities, when the offer from Durham eventually came through, the decision was promptly made in favour of the final resting place of St. Cuthbert.

The boy is however less focussed on any specific university. He is more focused on his art. Since he wants to do Graphic Design and illustration, his shortlisted universities bear no overlap with his sisters whatsoever. A fresh university tour was embarked upon last summer and all visiting dates fortunately collided with relatively good days regarding health. Following the second tour of the country, attending more open days, he has eventually whittled them down to his top five, most of which are former Art Schools.

·      Falmouth University, which grew out of Falmouth Art College seems to have garnered a lot of respect among the arts community. I am of course naturally bias towards Falmouth too, as it the town in which I was born and grew up in. I can consequently and unequivocally therefore endorse it as the best possible place to live.
·      Winchester School of Art at Southampton University is another old Art School loosely now coupled to Southampton University in order to extend its offerings on societies, events and nights out. It is however also the town where Peter went to school and college and as such he feels he might miss out on that university experience of moving to a strange new place and awkwardly making new groups of friends.
·      Norwich University of the Arts, like Falmouth is an old art school tightly secreted amongst various buildings around the town centre. Peter was especially taken by the fine Victorian architecture and indeed the course content, so after the first round of visits Norwich is riding high.
·      Arts University Bournemouth is another well respected arts university that is the ultimate goal of many of Peter’s current cohort of students on his Art Foundation Year. As such he’s reluctant to dismiss it until he’s got to the bottom of what the fuss is all about.
·      Loughborough University is however a more traditional and high ranking university that seems to be branching out into the arts and very quickly shooting to the top on the university rankings in this relatively new field for it. We especially liked the facilities at Loughborough and spent a long time talking to a very helpful department head at the open day, so despite being a later contender, Loughborough is also becoming a strong contender. It also has the highest entry requirements which is quite encouraging.

The final five were entered into his UCAS on-line application form in January and the responses soon began to trickle through. A-level results on their own are alas not enough to be offered a place on any of the courses Peter has applied for. You must first be offered and interview, and at that interview you must present a portfolio of your work and talk the interviewer through your processes and techniques and probably also talk a little about your artistic influences. By the end of January, he has mercifully received responses from all of his chosen universities and he has indeed been offered interviews from all of them. All five interviews are scheduled for February.

Prior to Peter getting all of his interview offers, I however, have been struggling somewhat. I’ve been put on a course of antibiotics by my GP to try and help my breathing problems. After a week My GP abandoned those antibiotics and tried me on an alternative course, which also failed to work. Following the failure of both antibiotic courses my GP has sent me to Salisbury Hospital, with suspected pneumonia, for a chest X-ray. I leave work early on the 20th January and make my way to the X-Ray waiting area. All of the TV’s in the hospital seem to have been tuned to the same coverage Indeed, all the world’s cameras currently appear to be following the motorcade of an orange-hued shit-gibbon. He always seemed to me to be a bit of an ignorant, misogynistic and bigoted jingoist, but what do I know? I’m sure the good people of America know what they are doing and that his term will pass without controversy, scandal, shame or disgrace. We shall see. I ‘m called into the X-ray room before the motorcade reaches its destination. I remove my shirt, stand up to the board, breathe in, and the X-ray is taken. My breathing problems have been getting gradually worse over the last few weeks, and although both my GP and oncologist think its extremely unlikely that the cancer could be growing back at such an aggressive rate so soon after stopping my treatment, I’m hoping this X-ray will provide a definitive answer at what is actually going on. The X-ray is taken on a Friday evening so I now have the familiar weekend of doubt and supposition ahead of me before I get any inkling as to what is going on.

By Monday morning my condition has continued to worsen. On my way to work I have yet more time to ponder as I sit motionless in my car on the M27 waiting for the traffic to move. My phone begins to ring. Could this be the update I’ve been waiting for already? It is my GP who tells me that she has the results of Friday’s X-ray. She says that the x-ray confirms that there is a large shadow covering more than half of my right lung. I ask what a large shadow is, is it cancer? She says that she cannot determine that from the X-ray but that I should certainly see my consultant oncologist as soon as possible and arrange for another CT scan. I had a CT scan last month and wasn’t therefore planning on having another until about March, this is clearly not what my oncology team were expecting and clearly not good news.

I crawl along in the traffic until I eventually reach my office. I make it up the first flight of stairs and to my desk where I promptly collapse in a mess, panicked, breathless and wheezing. Two of my team Jo and Simone kindly fetch me a glass of water and inform my manager of the situation. My manager leaves his current meeting and comes to see me, we find an empty room, and between gasps of breath I am able to reveal the results of my X-ray. Large shadow on the lung? What could that possible mean other than be a polite euphemism for fuck-off lump of cancer. I’m advised to go down to the café, have a drink, and when I’m feeling up to it to go back home and sort out some new scans and consultations with my GP and oncologist. I do just that, I have a drink, calm myself down and then head straight back home.

I ring my GP first and she arranges for a sick note for a month to give me time for them to get to the bottom of things. I also ring Gus, my oncological specialist nurse who updates Dr. Wheater with my situation. Dr Wheater then promptly books me a new CT scan the following week.

I had intended for February to be a productive month of work interspersed with a few days off to take Peter to various parts of the country for his interviews. It now looks like February will be a work free, yet busy succession of university, and hospital visits.

February Event 1: Interview at Winchester School of Art

The first event of our jam-packed February is Peter’s first interview which is at Winchester School of Art (WSA). It’s a day long affair with lunch provided and several different sessions including the actual interview. WSA present themselves very well and they really would be a very strong contender if it wasn’t for unadventurous impression of such a familiar city. Still it’s a good option for his first interview as it gives Peter a chance to practice his interview technique on one of his least desirable universities. He comes out of his interview looking relatively pleased but not willing to give too much away. We do however get a much better insight of how well he did a few days later when he receives an unconditional offer from them.

February Event 2: Emergency CT Scan

You and I will be equally well-informed regarding the CT scan procedures both at Salisbury and Southampton Hospitals by now so there’s no need for me to make this an overly verbose paragraph. This particular scan is at Southampton and follows the traditional Southampton script that I have now learnt. I have a litre of fruit flavoured contrast to down and I have a cannula fitted to my arm. Fortunately, the cannula slots in on the first attempt thanks perhaps to the nurse being especially diligent, probably as a results of not wanting to set a new record and beat my current record of seven attempts that I had described to her during our initial bit of polite conversation. Unlike X-rays, CT scans require a little post production and Dr Wheater won’t have the full results until next week. Not a problem, if there’s one thing cancer has taught me, its patience.

February Event 3: Interview at Norwich University of the Arts

I had booked a days leave to drive Peter and Tori to this particular mid-week interview, but as it happens I’m back on sick leave again so I don’t need to waste a days annual leave. Every cloud… The infamous dark shadow on my right lung has drastically reduced my lung capacity and simply making my way from the car park to the universities main building leaves me with no other option but to sit down and loudly and continuously wheeze at my fellow parents. After Peter’s interview he’s equally non-committal as to how well he has done. He does however want to stay on until the afternoon for the guided tours around the facilities. I recall from my last visit that these are in various building dotted around the town centre, and many require the scaling of three or four daunting flights of stairs. This is clearly beyond my capability so I’m deposited in my chair in reception area and plied with fresh tea and kit-kat’s to keep me going while Peter and Tori head off on the tour. I really do feel like I am now ready for a wheel chair and a tartan blanket to clearly indicate to everyone that I am an immobile old bastard and not just a lazy old bastard. Peter eventually returns from his excursion slightly less enthralled that he was on his first visit. I’m quite pleased about this as it happens, although I would never tire of saying “From Norwich it's the quiz of the week” every time I have to pick him up and drop him off, it is nonetheless a real pain in the arse to have to drive to Norwich.

February Event 4: Interview at Bournemouth University of the Arts

A couple of days later and its time to head down to Bournemouth. Peter has since heard from Norwich and now has an easily achievable conditional offer to study at Norwich University of the Arts added to his offer arsenal. Perhaps two offers in the bag already will take the pressure off him for his remaining three interviews – but he seems as tense as ever as we pull into the Bournemouth Arts University car park. Peter seems quite critical of Bournemouth. I, conversely, quite like Bournemouth, but that may well be because I can park right outside the main building in a roomy disabled parking bay and then make my way to the comfy sofa in Costa drinking coffee while Peter attends to all the interview malarkey. He comes out looking his usual self, I’m pretty sure he’s done ok but he doesn’t seem very impressed and only wants the quickest of ganders before heading back home

February Event 5: Oncology Consultation

Finally, I have my consultation with Dr. Wheater and I should have the results from the CT scan that will determine for once and all what this stupid bloody large shadow on my lung actually is. The news is not at all good, and he wastes no time dancing around the subject. The cancer has indeed grown extremely aggressively since taking my chemotherapy break at the end of Christmas. There is a new tumour growing in my right hip bone that explains the pain in my hip every time I cough. The original tumours on the side of my right lung and liver have grown considerably and are now bigger than when I first started the treatment. There are a string of new tumours growing in my tummy and there are a number of small feathery tumours growing in the pleural cavity of my right lung. The pleural cavity is basically the gap between the inner and outer lung wall linings. The pleural cavity in my right lung has been made larger by the tumours growing in there and this has allowed fluid to build up in this area. The fluid build-up has opened the cavity further and allowed even more fluid to drain in. There is now several litres of fluid sloshing around in the gap between my inner and outer lung linings that has caused the majority of the actual lung to collapse and also provides a heavy weight that pushes down on the other tumours causing even more pain. The only only good thing I can take from this explanation is that the dark shadow is fluid and not a massive tumour itself. As for a way forward, I ask if perhaps the best thing to do is start retaking the pazopanib again as soon as possible. Dr. Wheater seems to think that the speed of my cancer growth is unprecedented and is not what has previously experienced with my fellow patients on this trial. He therefore suspects that the pazopanib may have failed earlier and has thus not been working for a while. I’m not convinced. The last scan at the beginning of December showed that although I had no further shrinkage, the pazopanib was keeping the cancer at bay. My theory is that the pazopanib had actually been doing a tremendous job holding the cancer back and that the abrupt stoppage has just opened the flood gates for the cancer and whatever this fluid is on my lung. Dr. Wheater agrees that this is also a very plausible explanation and we agree that I shall restart the pazopanib as soon as possible and closely monitor its progress.

There is also the not insignificant matter of the large amount of fluid on my lungs to consider. When this gets really bad there are apparently two possible procedures. The first is to simply insert a needle directly into the pleural cavity under local anaesthetic, attach a pipe and basically allow gravity to extract the fluid. This requires the majority of the fluid to be in one major pool and not distributed around fiddly pockets in the lung lining. It sounds like a quick and easy procedure, indeed, it is a procedure rather than a full-blown operation. The second option is a full-on operation under general anaesthetic that will allow the surgeon to root around within the lung and suck out every last bit of fluid. The surgeon would then apply a talcum powder that would fuse the inner and outer walls together and thus prevent the build up of any future fluid. Both Dr. Wheater and I favour the simple procedure (to start with at least), however to prevent the immediate build up of fluid again I think he wants to allow the pazopanib some time to re-establish its dominance and therefore hopefully prevent the build up of fluid again, he also thinks that if the pazopanib does work well it might even be capable of causing the lungs to drain naturally. The prognosis is not at all good but we have a cunning plan at least. I will go straight back on the pazopanib tomorrow morning and I will monitor my lung capacity and decide if I need to come into hospital for a cheeky lung drain or not.

Buggering arseholes.

February Event 6: Interview at Falmouth University

Saturday morning once again and it is yet another early start. Actually it’s not quite as early as it could have been due to the fact that we drove down to Cornwall last night and stayed in a Travelodge. It gives me a rather pleasurable early morning drive through my old stomping ground and manage to take in Leedstown, Praze, Nancegollan, Helston, Edgcumbe, Long Downs, Mabe, Burnthouse, and finally into Falmouth. It’s a fine spring morning and because we’ve bought the dog I have to sit at a peaceful table in the beautiful university grounds supping my coffee. Peter heads off to his interview at the allotted time and for once comes back an hour or so later looking reasonably pleased with himself. I decide that my lung capacity is probably sufficient for us to drive down to the marina and purchase the obligatory pasty for lunch. We bump into our friends Lorraine and Anthony in Falmouth who are coincidentally also down in Falmouth today too, but I insist on heading off without any further adventuring as I’m starting flag now and I really need to start the long drive home.

February Event 7: Interview at Loughborough University

By the next Saturday Peter has received offers from both Bournemouth and Falmouth and has therefore now bagged four out of his five selected universities. Just Loughborough to go but thanks to a shocking cock-up with alarms we are unable to leave to house until 8am. Peter is supposed to be 150 miles away in Loughborough by 9am. Thanks to some inspired driving we arrive at 9:45 and still in plenty of time to book his precise interview slot. As he has secured one of the later interview slots we have one of the organised tours of the facilities. It’s all in a cluster of buildings on the one sight and they are all single or two storey building so I think I might be able to manage it. I hobble along like some decrepit old fart at the back of the gaggle of enthusiastic parents, I’m just about able to keep them in my sights so I know which way to turn next. On one occasion the tour takes to the staircase so Peter and Tori spread themselves out like Marshalls along the path to mark my course as I begin to lag further behind the main party. The tour is much the same as the one we had on our initial visit and everyone on Team Jago seems to have retained their levels of enthusiasm for this particular university. We eventually make it back to the waiting area and have a further wait until Peter is called in for his interview. When Peter comes back he’s notoriously hard to extract information from and only the sly grin on has face suggests that he thinks he’s done OK. After the interview Peter is interested in looking around the main campus and the various accommodation blocks. I trudge on behind, but the slight incline on the site means that my knackered right lung is struggling considerably. A bench is sought out an I am carefully ushered to it so I can recover. After my breathing has stabilised we try and push on, but its no good, my lungs are simple not capable of taking me any further. We head back down to the gentle slope towards the car and decide to do some virtual accommodation tours on-line instead.

February Event 8: Emergency consultation with Dr. Wheater

The Monday after the interview in Loughborough and I decide that I can’t continue like this and I need to go into hospital for a lung drain. I email Gus who talks to Dr. Wheater and then calls me back asking me to come into the hospital this afternoon to see what they can do. Dr. Wheater sends me off for another X-ray just to get an up to date picture of the amount of fluid on my lungs. It’s substantial and he agrees to admit me onto the ward ASAP to get the drain done. He makes several phone calls to get everything in place, but there are simply no beds currently available. He has however left instructions with the bookings manager for her to give me a call on my mobile as soon as a bed becomes available. Dr Wheater says I should get a call tomorrow but certainly within the next couple of days. Once in my bed they’ll run a few checks and hopefully get the procedure done relatively quickly.


  1. My heart goes out to you, sir. I continue to be amazed by your upbeat attitude and humor. I send much love from across the Pond.

  2. I found your blog just yesterday following a link a photo that cropped up on my FB. So I am catching up on all of this and having read 26 Chapters yesterday am now working through the rest today. I would have been worried sick reading this in real time. I know you have come ot the other end of this horrible tunnel. I feel guilt enjoying your writing, sharing your humour and I can hear your voice saying some of the things. Then I remember the subject matter and wish it wasn't there for the reading.